Prior to last night’s game, the Rangers presented a special new award. The Rod Gilbert Award goes to the player who exemplifies what being a Ranger is all about.
Rod Gilbert is probably the most iconic Blueshirt. As part of the memorable GAG Line, he spent his entire Hall Of Fame career on Broadway, scoring 406 goals with 615 assists for a franchise best 1021 points. Nobody had more goals or points as a New York Ranger. Gilbert also is the franchise leader in even strength goals (298) and game-winning goals (52).
It was not only his consistency as a player that made him a fan favorite. But how he conducted himself off the ice. Gilbert always interacted with the fans. He became the Rangers Ambassador. A role he held with pride by representing the team well.
Many fans had memorable experiences with the legendary Hockey Hall Of Famer. That’s who Gilbert was. Always greeting everyone with a smile and even discussing the game with the fans. Dad met him plenty of times. I got a photo with him too at a team event. Awesome stuff.
It is for that reason that following his passing last summer that the organization decided to create an award named for Rod Gilbert. One that would honor his memory and everything he meant to the franchise.
Before the Rangers hosted the Canadiens on a night they also acknowledged recently passed hockey legend Guy Lafleur, who spent one year in Manhattan following a distinguished career with Montreal, they had a special presentation.
Adam Graves joined Rod’s wife Judy Christy who made the announcement. Before revealing the first ever winner, she mentioned how big a fan her late husband was of this player. Then, said how proud she was to present the Rod Gilbert Award to Chris Kreider.
A night removed from being near tears after winning the Steven McDonald Award as voted by the fans, a happier Kreider smiled as he came out on the ice in street clothes before hugging Judy and taking a picture. It was wonderful.
With nothing on the line for the Rangers, Kreider was one of seven regulars Gerard Gallant decided to rest. Andrew Copp, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba and Mika Zibanejad all sat out. A deserved night off for all.
Especially Kreider, whose 52 goals matched Graves for the second most by a Ranger in a season. His 77 points are a career high and 26 power play goals along with 11 game-winners are new team records for a single season.
It sure has been a special year for the Boston, Massachusetts kid who once was selected 19th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. Having never reached 30 goals with 28 the most, Kreider has been a model of consistency.
With the departure of Pavel Buchnevich, who has had a career year in St. Louis, it’s been Kreider that has stepped to the forefront. He’s led by example on and off the ice. The only thing left for him to receive is the captaincy. Something that looks like a foregone conclusion once 2022-23 begins. That’s a long way off.
Right now, there’s plenty of business for the Rangers to take care of. After tonight’s slate of games with both the Caps and Pens in action, we’ll have a better idea how much meaning tomorrow’s season finale against Washington will mean. It’ll either be them or Pittsburgh in the first round starting either next Monday or Tuesday.
It’s been an exciting season. One that’s restored pride to the Rangers jersey. There’ll be a real postseason. The first in five long years. Zibanejad still hasn’t forgotten how 2017 ended. Good. Holdovers like him and Kreider shouldn’t. They want to make this year special.
Seeing the success of those two in particular has been great to watch. The growth and maturity of the Broadway dynamic duo are a big reason for the team’s success. They are two of the biggest leaders. Along with Fox, Trouba, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome and key addition Barclay Goodrow, there are plenty of high character players who have been instrumental.
Igor Shesterkin also didn’t play on Wednesday. The Vezina favorite got a night off. It remains to be seen if he’ll get the final start of the regular season tomorrow. He’s been unbelievable. The certain Team MVP is the most important player headed into the playoffs. They wouldn’t be here without him.
That sure is true of Chris Kreider. Congratulations to him on such special honors. It is well deserved.